Thursday, February 26, 2015

1992 – Serge Toubiana Leaves Cahiers

The year 1992 represents a culmination and turning point for Cahiers: its intellectual guide since the mid-Seventies, Serge Daney, on June 12th dies of AIDS at the age of 48, and its chief-editor, Serge Toubiana, after a disenchantment from finally experiencing Cannes as a jury member, in October resigns from his position. Toubiana in his modest farewell Passage de témoin (N.460) – one small paragraph, on the same page as the table of contents –, writes, “For more than ten years I’ve directed this magazine, and I believe that I’ve allowed it room for new developments. But I couldn’t have done it without a close team of friends, and their complicity.” Before leaving, in the previous couple of years, Toubiana updated the layout of the magazine and added new features to the magazine[1], Cahiers celebrated its 40th anniversary and they would publish a two-volume history of its first thirty years (1951-81), and a new generation of critics were slowly arising to prominence at the magazine and where Thierry Jousse, who was appointed the adjoined chief-editor in 1990, would finally take the helm. It’s a new decade, and the previously mentioned events closed the Eighties, and the current decade seemed like it is up for grabs.

Toubiana would organize an important special issue dedicated to Daney[2] that consists of 38 testimonies by fellow critics, friends and filmmakers. These testimonies and the publication of two of his essays – one of his first, on Rio Bravo, and the other regarding the launch of Trafic – highlight his singularity and value in the French cultural sphere as well as his importance at Cahiers, which he always saw as his maison-mère. It is only the second time, throughout a sixty-year period, where a sole critic (excluding critics-turned-filmmakers) received a cover of the magazine, with the first one being on one of its original founders André Bazin (N.91).[3] The issue, which is gorgeously illustrated, and attest to Daney’s love of travel and friendship with a myriad of filmmakers, is described by the rédaction in its opening editorial, “This issue is the sign of our loyal friendship, and admiration to Serge Daney.”

The testimonies in this issue provide a good portrait of Daney: they trace an evolving human being who conceptualized the relationship between politics and art within a new media sphere; they address the importance that he stressed on dialogue and work within a group; as well as his love to travel. There is also a lot regarding what characterized his editorship of Cahiers from 1974-1981.

In Toubiana’s entry, Parce que l’amitié!, he recalls first meeting Daney in 1972 at a point where he wanted move away from gauchisme, and the strong political fervor that arose from May ’68, towards something new. On their early encounter, “In reality, we were so different… But deep down, we both shared a friendship, we were also poor together.” On this early Seventies period and Daney’s editorship,

Serge ‘inherited’, despite himself, the magazine. With his back against the wall, he improvised and, after a bit of experimentation, was able to put the magazine back in place on a much better trajectory… Serge accepted my help, more out of friendship than necessarily my competence. We had a tight alliance, sharing for many years the same somber office, which was already at the Bastille. At the heart of this alliance, he brought the essentials: principals, an immense culture, a project for the magazine founded on the desire to accompany the strongest, and craziest, experiences of the cinema.

Toubiana highlights what Daney brought out in others and the impact that he had on himself,

I always admired with Serge his way to highlight the importance of things, and to oblige others, like myself, to rise up to this level. I feel like I’m missing him already, that I won’t have anyone to talk to, except for his memory, when I have my doubts on a film, a book, show or other things, simply put, when I have a personal choice to make… For Daney, who, regarding whatever the film, thought so strongly and naturally about the frame, he might have not known how much he helped me, like he did so many others, to help frame my life, and my relationship with the cinema. It bothered him still recently, when he asked me what I would become, while all the while he was telling me that my time was coming to accomplish something…

Claudine Paquot, the general secretary of the magazine[4], highlights how the deux Serges in 1978 would meet her, and how Daney would think that the magazine was missing quelque chose and that she would bring to it a fabrique d’une revue, which would include an open new layout and more pictures that would enrich the texts. Paquot would highlight Daney’s dictionary entry on Italiques in their 30th anniversary issue as just one example of on how they would put together an issue.

Paquot highlights Daney’s generous personality and the personal impetus of what it meant to carry the Cahiers identiy.

And your voice never lacked generosity to discuss Cahiers, its history, its raison d'être, from its largest projects to its smallest notes... First, at the Cahiers office, in a reconverted floor at the Passage de la Boule Blanche; the pleasure of reading all of the pieces, discovering ideas, the quality of style, the work of a critique; precise syntax, the right word, perfect orthography, and especially the respect for each proper name, verifying in its original language, as a sign of respect (Ouch, the day where I spelt it ‘Minelli’! – N.328, Pg. XV).

[1] Including: Nouvelle du monde, Image(s) du mois, Portrait, Séquence du mois, Actuelles, Chronique, Hors-Salles.
[2] Cahiers, July-August 1992 (N.458).
[3] These special eulogy issues, which highlight singular figures in the Cahiers history, would have an importance in Toubiana’s editorship: As a way to look backwards and to reflect, as well as to use these figures and their lessons as guides while moving forward. There would be Hors Séries homage issues on Alfred Hitchcock (1981) and Francois Truffaut (1984) after their death, as well as featured dossiers on Orson Welles, John Cassavetes and Sergio Leone, throughout the Eighties.
[4] An important figure at the magazine in this period as she would work closely with the new writers and help them through editing, and refining, their reviews, before she would move on to the Cahiers book publishing department. When she died in 2011, Stéphane Delorme, the current chief-editor at Cahiers, would feature an homage to her, with contributions by Toubiana, Alain Bergala, Thierry Jousse, and Hélène Frappat. On Paquot, and Clotilde Arnaud, who was in charge of their administration, Toubiana writes, “Serge Daney and I wanted to re-launch the magazine, to give it a redactional and economic bases. These new recruits, ‘les filles’, were going to help us.” (Cahiers, July-August 2011, N.669).

Serge Toubiana's First Important Editorials

(Cahiers du Cinéma,  n°307 & n°326)

J.-M. Lo Duca on the Cahiers History

(Cahiers du Cinéma, June 1991,  n°445)

Serge Daney & Co. on the Seventies

(Cahiers du Cinéma, February 1980,  n°308 - cf. Pascal Bonitzer's Contribution in English)

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Marcel Jean’s Dictionnaire des Films Québécois (+ More on Jean-Marc Vallée)

One of the exciting new books on Québécois cinema, along with 40 ans de vues rêvées, is Marcel Jean’s Dictionnaire des Films Québécois (Éditions Somme toute), which offers a passionate and thorough look at that province’s rich cinema. It includes 1300 titles, from feature-, medium-, and short-length films, along with animated and experimental ones, where each entry includes the film’s credits, synopsis and a commentary. It’s organized by the film’s titles, just like a dictionary would be, and it goes from A to Z.

Jean re-watched these films from 2007 to 2014 and the commentaries are all up-to-date from these recent viewings. It’s impressive to see significant entries on films that just came out last year, like Tu dors Nicole, Que ta joie demeure and Mommy.

Jean’s an expert on the subject - having worked in the industry, is a film critic and the author of numerous books on the subject - and the book’s historical depth, diversity and taste benefit from this. Québécois cinema has a richness to it in its representation of its unique culture, and it has been able to create a stable radio and television industry, which allows for the rise of smaller, more artistic films in its periphery. The book goes back to its earliest output in the Forties and then progresses all of the way to the present.

Jean’s comments can be both positive and negative. Jean appreciates originality and innovation, as well as works that are rich historically or anthropologically, while he dislikes simplifications, emotional manipulation, and miscasting. It’s also impressive for his openness and generosity towards typically overlooked forms like the short-film, animation and the experimental genre.

All of the films by the big name auteurs are there, along with many lesser-known figures and oddities. There are great entries on Denys Arcand, Louise Archambault, Michel Brault, Gilles Carle, Denis Côté, Donigan Cumming, Sophie Deraspe, Xavier Dolan, Bernard Émond, Philippe Falardeau, André Forcier, Simon Galiero, Pierre Hébert, Claude Jutra, Stéphane Lafleur, Jean-Claude Lauzon, Robert Lepage, Jean Pierre Lefebvre, Arthur Lipsett, Francis Mankiewicz, Catherine Martin, Norman McLaren, Robert Morin, Rafaël Ouellet, Pierre Perrault, Sébastien Pilote, Léa Pool, Chloé Robichaud, Daïchi Saïto, Theodore Ushev, Jean-Marc Vallée, and Denis Villeneuve.

Some of what are considered the best Canadian films are included, like Mon oncle Antoine, Les Bons débarras, Léolo, Jésus de Montréal, and C.R.A.Z.Y., which are relevant to re-watch and to read about, especially with TIFF’s best of Canadian film poll around the corner (cf. my list, on the right). It includes their popular cinema, as well. Louis Saïa is in there with Les Boys I, II and III, which are dramatic comedies on Québécois masculinity and the attraction of hockey. There are also two entries on Jean’s own films (modestly written about in the third person).

The contemporary generation of directors is present and there is an impressive inclusion of their early short films. One gets the impression that Denis Côté, Stéphane Lafleur, and Xavier Dolan are Jean’s favorite directors of this movement: Côté’s full filmography (except maybe for some shorts) is analyzed and so is Lafleur’s, whose early shorts Karaoke and then Snooze sound especially interesting.

There are some up-and-coming young directors, like Anne Émond (Sophie Lavoie, Nuit #1) and even Sophie Goyette makes it in with an entry on La Ronde. Jean writes, “With its solemn tone, its narrative economy, the unsaid, and its fascination with death, Sophie Goyette’s film is representative of a major trend in Québécois cinema, along with Nicolas Roy.”

There are some interesting choices and exclusions too, which it would be interesting to hear more about their reasoning. The films by its directors that are made outside of Québéc are typically not included. This is sometimes strange, as, for example, a film like Café de Flore, which is set in both Montreal and Paris, isn’t included. While David Cronenberg’s The Brood to Videodrome are included (Jean mentions they got Québécois funding), even though they are set in Toronto and the broader Ontario area. Dušan Makavejev’s Sweet Movie starring Carole Laure is included as one of its most controversial co-productions. It’s interesting to remember that Don Owen started his career in Montreal (The Ernie Game, Ladies and Gentlemen… Mr. Leonard Cohen, Notes for a Film about Donna and Gail). Ted Kotcheff’s important The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz is there. But so is surprisingly Sylvain Chomet for La vieille dame et les pigeons and Les triplettes de Belleville, which I guess must have been Québécois co-productions. One would have also liked to have seen more First Nations entries - Alanis Obomsawin, their most representative figure, only gets one for Incident at Restigouche. 

The book traces how the Québécois cinema evolved throughout its history, what were the films that influenced the subsequent generations, and what were the connections between its artistic collaborators. In the entries there is a strong emphasis of the contributions of the National Film Board in Québécois production, especially as they were based in Montreal. (A lot of these films you can find on the great NFB website). This accounts for a big influence of cinema vérité, which Perrault and Brault helped to define with Pour la suite du monde, on their fiction films and documentaries. The French New Wave was a big influence in the Sixties, and it’s odd not to see more exploitation films, which blossomed in English Canada in the Seventies due to Tax Shelter benefits.

The book doesn’t hierarchize the films, though, which, I think, it could have benefited from. Though Jean has longer entries on the more important films, I think, an evaluative hierarchy or even a list of their best films (which, would have gained by more voices) could have added to its project. But Jean’s evaluations seem to be on point. La vie heureuse de Léopold Z, which I consider the best and one of the most important Canadian film, Jean writes, “Carle’s use of fantasy, his lightness, and sense of humor make this film the summit of Sixties young Québécois cinema.”

But, I think, one must say, because not enough people do, that Gilles Carle is the best Québécois, and Canadian, director of all time; and his heir, for sharing many similar preoccupations, Jean-Marc Vallée, the best working Québécois, and world, director living today.

Either way, those are only some minor qualms, Dictionnaire des Films Québécois is a major new book for Canadian cinema, and it's rich in insight, fun to read, and accessible to the general reader. This dictionary is a must-read for anyone interested in Québécois cinema, along with the regular writing on the subject at 24 Images.

Let’s take this review further and look closely at one of the directors that it features. Why not, for example, examine Jean’s entries on Jean-Marc Vallée.

Of note are the two entries on two of his short-films, Les fleurs magiques and Les mots magiques. (Though there is nothing on Stéréotypes). The summaries they include on these films are great since both of these are impossible to find. Jean describes the two works as family dramas, whose theme is that of the father-son relationship, and that they are done in Vallée’s impressive magical-realism style.

The story of Les fleurs magique, which is worth repeating since its unavailable, is,
At the end of the Sixties, a ten-year-old boy wants his father, whose an alcoholic and violent, to recover from his illness. From his room, where he observes his mother’s anguish and his father’s crisis, he prays to Jesus, observes his flower and wears his good-luck hat, to conjure a better fate for his family.
On the film, which came out the same year as Liste noire, Jean notes that it’s ‘remarkably masterful’, especially in its period detail and use of music (Dinah Washington’s What Difference A Day Makes), and it marks Vallée’s first encounter with Marc-André Grondin (who he would star in C.R.A.Z.Y.) and originates many themes and style that the director would later develop.

On Les mots magique Jean describes its story,
Nearing Christmas, a young man visits his father with the intention to give him a letter where he tells him the deepest feelings in his heart. He finds his father unexcited, drinking his beer in front of the television. He imagines telling him his feelings, with the hope of a reconciliation.
Jean writes that these two shorts announce C.R.A.Z.Y and it pursues Vallée’s interest in father and son relationships, his theme of predilection. Jean is especially generous towards it, as he describes it as “the richest short fiction film in all of Québécois cinema history, which explains Vallée’s immaculate progression, where he plays with emotions but without ever falling into pathos.”

There are also entries on Liste Noire, which Jean describes as a classic genre film (which was something rare for its time), and C.R.A.Z.Y., which for some reason Jean describes as his second full-length film (it’s actually his fourth). Jean discusses Vallée’s impressive visual innovation and use of the soundtrack, along with the autobiographical contributions by its screenwriter François Boulay. Jean concludes,  “Finally, we are in front of a rare example, in Québéc, of a truly popular cinema with an ambitious aesthetic dimensions, and which consequently, also rare, found a unanimity with both the public and the critics.”

Since Vallée is going to give a Master Class at the Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois on Friday, February 27th at 7:30PM it’s worth bringing some recent news about him.

Éditions Somme toute (again), one of the great publishers of Québécois cinema books, in 2013 published the script of Vallée’s C.R.A.Z.Y. It’s interesting in it to read its editor Raymond Plante’s preface, the script, Vallée’s working methods, as well as to see some of the rare photographs from its production.

On the film Plante expresses his affection for it nicely,
For the most of us, C.R.A.Z.Y. was the film of the summer of 2005, the one that reminds us of memories of a past that wasn’t too far away, it awed us, made us laugh. We saw ourselves in the film. Like how certain songs can mark a season, we hold on to this memory, we believe C.R.A.Z.Y. is unforgettable.
It’s a similar sentiment to what Mathieu Chantelois describes in his Vallée piece in Cineplex Magazine, “When I told my French-Canadian mother I was going to see a screening of Wild, a movie directed by Jean-Marc Vallée and starring Reese Witherspoon, she asked, “Who’s Reese Witherspoon?”” There is something extremely local about Vallée and the personal responses that he gets in Canada are really strong.

The script of C.R.A.Z.Y. is great (I now want to see an annotated version!) especially as one can see how much of the film and story is there on the page. It’s interesting to note, again, that Vallée gets his son Émile Vallée to play his younger self (just like he would get Cheryl Strayed to do with her own daughter in Wild) as well as to look at the scenes with the young priest character, who is played by Vallée himself, especially in light of all of his own following films’ religious themes. It’s also interesting to see what he cut out, like a scene between Zachary Beaulieu and a psychiatrist. Vallée has always been a director of understatement.

In the Approche du réalisateur, which is a must-read for any Vallée fan, he writes, “No matter  what the film, my approach is always the same: to tell a story with the sincere desire to present the best spectacle possible.” He mentions how for him, a good film, can instill a reflection to see the beauty of life and the world. There is so much on Vallée's methods here regarding every element of the filmmaking process. I can't recommend it enough.

Just to conclude: With the promotion of Wild finished it's worth highlighting some of the best pieces and interviews with Vallée that came out. There is now a confirmation that he's going to adapt The Proper Use of Stars on Sir John Franklin's 1845 Northwest passage, Agnès Gruda had a great piece in La Presse on him L'homme qui pleure, in Variety he discusses his collaborators, there is a great interview with in in MovieMaker, Kevin Laforest put up an old piece where they discuss the influence of Yves Lever on both of them, and the L.A. Times posted a great Oscars roundtable (Wild has a few nominations) with Vallée alongside Miller, Linklater, Marsh, and Chandor.

Vallée's at the heart of things.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Olivier Assayas at Cahiers Today

(Cahiers du cinéma, n°683 & n°702)

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Serge Daney on his Hollywood Trip

"Alright, America. In 1964 I was 20, and there were still a few sublime old timers in Los Angeles. For instance McCarey, who had never done an interview, neither at Cahiers, nor anywhere else, so we were the first. McCarey wasn’t a sublime old timer, he was a sick man, an extremely emaciated (compared to the pictures) has-been, and also very bitter. Louis Skorecki and I experienced the interview, which took place in the cafeteria of I don’t remember what big studio, perfectly ‘McCareyian,’ as proof of a well founded politique des auteurs. It was pure awkwardness. McCarey was eating yogurt and spilling it all over the place, while singing the praises of his first film in a somewhat sour voice. We saw his senility. Naturally we also found it atrocious that the 1940s box office smash, was twenty years later this survivor. It seemed like we experienced the cruelty of Hollywood, of the system, and we knew which side we were on.
We didn’t go there to find just anyone. We had a list of those whom we wanted to see and many of them were going into exile or disappearing. Those in charge of the “foreign press,” seeing us ask to speak with Jacques Tourneur must have taken us for nuts but they handled it rather well, as they very matter-of-factly called Tourneur from his seat at the Directors’ Guild. We saw a tall man arrive, a little hesitant, who spoke to us immediately in a southern French accent. Occasionally we would stumble upon more contemporary filmmakers, those who were more conscious of their situation. Sam Fuller, who was delighted to play the role that wasn’t quite yet his in front of two European kids, or Jerry Lewis, who was in the middle of shoot with Tashlin, interrupted the scene to show everyone the special issue of Cahiers where he had ranked among the filmmakers!

On the other hand, I remember the way Cukor treated us as what we must have been and appeared to be from the outside: a couple of crackpot amateurs, one fat, one skinny, full of admiration and determined not to be disappointed. I often think about this episode with Cukor as you might think about some episode that you couldn’t see at the time to what extent it was emblematic. It was a hot summer day in an amazing villa, among his courtship and minions, and everyone there seemed to be blossoming, except for us, drenched in sweat, saying how much we loved Sylvia Scarlett, which we just discovered in Paris. Cukor wasn’t particularly flattered that we valorized one of his flops from the beginning of his career. Just like Katherine Hepburn in her autobiography, excusing herself for having made it, and immediately lowering herself in my esteem. The law of showbiz is that a commercial failure can’t be a good film. When I imagine the two of us with that old broken man, crafty as a monkey, and whose last film Rich and Famous proved that he never went senile, I am still astounded by the way we chose to love American cinema not by their norms but by our own.

At some point the conversation touched upon Nicholas Ray, and we must have said that we loved Wind Across the Everglades. Hearing this Cukor started howling, the laugh of a mean and sour old lady, crying to the others “Come here, come here! You know which film they like? Wind Across the Everglades! The film that Jack Warner didn’t even dare release!” I can still see us irritated but unshaken, persuaded that we were right, and in fact we were. It was just like six years later when for our first course at Censier, Pascal Bonitzer and myself, mortified at the front of the red lecture hall–coming unstitched, and when interrogating the cinema oscillating between Sam Peckinpah and Francesco Rosi–howled in blanching voices that materialist cinema was Godard and Gorin’s Vent d’Est and the Straub’s Non Réconciliés, and there was to be no compromise. This feeling of remaining a sincere and stubborn child with all his caprices in the face of the condescending and bloated good sense of the adult world is certainly something that I’m still a little proud of. 

The cinephile isn’t the one who loves and copies in life the objects and attitudes that he first loved on the screen. He is at the same time both more modest and infinitely prouder: what he asks of cinema is to endure like cinema. He might need the politique des auteurs, but in the sense that a film obeys a point of view, a vision of the world that legitimizes it, gives it its logic. But ultimately the film becomes a sort of being, a character, a kind of portrait of Dorian Gray in which I can see myself aging. That’s why we didn’t make too much of Cuckor turning his nose up at Sylvia Scarlett. It’s why I’ve always had a little bit of pity for the madmen of American cinema–the sweet fetishists–who spent their lives disguising themselves as little Americans of the 1950s, with their boots, jackets and cars. This explains how I was able to learn to breathe outside polluted France in American cinema, and at the same time I had no problem being furious in the 70s with American imperialism. 

Intellectually, America was completely at peace: it was a very powerful world that never stopped demanding of us, and of secreting in itself antibodies of lucidity, irony and cracks. France was an oversized midget, and America was a giant which could produce internal dissidents who were our heroes: from Welles to Ray, the martyrologue was inexhaustible and the most “normal” thing in the world. This astounding split, this American presence at the heart of my culture and nowhere in my dreams, is perhaps difficult to understand today; as difficult as the “communist dream,” which was its parallel. The falling aesthetics of Yalta have finish falling." - Serge Daney (Postcards from the Cinema)

Monday, February 9, 2015

Truffaut par Truffaut by the Cinémathèque française.

To coincide with their recent François Truffaut exhibition the Cinémathèque française put together an amazing website where they compiled a variety of Truffaut quotes. It’s described as “a website in the form of an intimate journal” and the quotes come from a variety of classic essays and interviews, which includes text, audio and videos (some of this rare footage is also embedded in the site). They’re full of fascinating insights on all of his films, how they were made, his personal obsessions, and the work of his many collaborators. The mise-en-page of Truffaut par Truffaut is gorgeous as the site, building upon the Cinémathèque’s extensive Truffaut’s Films de Carrosse archive, is full of rare pictures of the director, annotated documents, and interesting promotional material. Each new entry, which was slowly launched over a couple of months, opens with a unique banner and a brief resume of the previous chapter. It’s wide reaching as it goes from his beginnings and his disadvantaged childhood through to his early years as a film critic at Cahiers du Cinéma to his emergence as an innovative filmmaker alongside his nouvelle vague peers and finally to his steady career at Les films du Carrosse. The 15 sections of Truffaut par Truffaut are: L'école buissonnière, Premiers souvenirs de cinéma, André Bazin ou l'initiation à la critique, La passage à la réalization, Nouvelle vague, Les Films du Carosse, Série noire, Série blême; Antoine Doinel, moi et mon double; Fahrenheit 451, un tournage difficile; Cinéaste des passions, Acteur, Tournages, Filmer les enfants, Musique et chansons, and Truffaut/Hitchcock.

In it you can read about Truffaut’s troubled childhood and skipping class as a youth to go to the cinema (material he would draw from when he would make Les quatre cents coups). On these matinee screenings in the Forties Truffaut describes how the first movie theater that would open would receive a large group of kids who just wanted to get out of sight and off of the streets since they were skipping class. It would be in this period where Truffaut and his friend Robert Lachenay, through their film club Cercle cinémane, would get to know Henri Langlois and Bazin. Truffaut discusses how he first read Bazin in Revue du Cinéma – a critique of Monsieur Verdoux – and when Truffaut’s stepfather discovered that he ‘borrowed’ funds to run his film club and he brought him to prison (a similar experience that created guilt to what happened to Hitchcock) and that it was Bazin who got him out and who he would stay with afterwards, and who would get him a job at Travail et Culture. Bazin, and Jean Genet surprisingly, would also help Truffaut when he was trying to get out of his military service. Truffaut would dedicate Les quatre cents coups to Bazin.

On his youthful cinephilia, Truffaut discusses seeing Citizen Kane around 20 times by the age of 13, and that,  “Suddenly, I realized that a film could be written like a novel,” and that in this period, he denounced French films (“a little excessively”) in contrast to the star power of the American actors. He started writing serious film criticism in 1953 and his famous essay on the politique des auteurs (Cahiers N.31), which emphasizes the director’s worldview as illustrated through his body of work, and a certain extremity in taste, would be an important early influence at the magazine.

On what makes a good critique, around this time, Truffaut writes,
“It has to be intellectual, since it necessitates a reflection on the films. To comment upon them. But what to write! One can’t just be washed over by the images, you really had to analyze its scenario. This was a real important step for me: I started to search for why a film wasn’t entirely interesting, why the first half was good and the second went into these weird directions. For the first time, instead of saying ‘it’s good!’ or ‘it’s bad!’, I started to ask myself why.”
On Bergman’s Summer Interlude, “it’s the film that gave me the impression that anyone could write dialogue, or at least that I could.”

Meeting Rossellini in 1951, and working with him for two years on scripts (which were never made) greatly contributed to Truffaut wanting to become a filmmaker. It was Rossellini who would turn Truffaut a little away from American films in favor of simplicity, clarity, and logic. Truffaut made his first film at the age of 27. His first short film, Une visite (there is a picture of its script on Truffaut par Truffat), is a lost film and is described as being ‘not good.’ Alain Resnais even proposed to re-edit it. But as Truffaut says his first official work is Les Mistons working with Gerard Blain and Bernadette Lafont. Truffaut describes this short-film working best when it was closer to a documentary on the boys. Truffaut got money from Pierre Braunberger to make a documentary on a flood, which would become Une histoire d'eau and would be edited together by Godard. It was “copiously mocked!”

Truffaut’s definition of the nouvelle vague,
“The nouvelle vague never had an aesthetic program, it was simply a tentative to renew a certain independence that was lost around 1924, when films became to expensive, a little before the talkie. In 1960, for us, to make a film, it was to imitate D.W. Griffith, who made his films under the California sun, even before the birth of Hollywood. In this period, the directors were all really young. It’s crazy to know that Hitchcock, Chaplin, Vidor, Walsh, Ford and Capra all made their first films before the age of 25. It was the work of youthful boys, as it should be. Therefor the youth need to take over, like Guy Gilles or Lelouch, or even younger people, cameras in hand, ready to get in a helicopter or even to trek the Amazon.”
On Tirez sur le pianiste,
“In one way, I made Tirez sur le pianiste against Les quatre cents coups. For my second film, I felt there was a lot of expectations, from this public who only go to the cinema twice a year. I wanted to please those are really passionate about the cinema and only them, to re-route those who liked the earlier one. I refused to be the prisoner of this success, I avoided the temptation of making an ‘important film’. I turned my back on what was expected from me, and I took up as a rule to follow my own desires… And Tirez sur le pianiste also gave me the occasion to show that I was formed by American cinema.”
On Jean Renoir’s influence,
“I dedicated La Sirène du Mississipi to Renoir because, the way I improvise with the actors and dialogue, it was always him that I thought about. In front of each difficulty, I always asked myself: “How would Renoir get out of this?” I don’t think that a filmmaker should ever feel alone if he knows the thirty-five films of the auteur of La Règle du jeu and La Grande illusion.” 
On growing up,
“Up to L'Enfant sauvage, when there were children in my films, I always identified with them, and then, for the first time, I started to identify with the adult, the father, all the way to the point, that while I was finishing editing it, I decided to dedicate it to Jean-Pierre Léaud, because this passage for me, starting to become clearly evident. I thought a lot about him and our earliest work while I was making this film. For me, L'Enfant sauvage, it’s also my passage towards adulthood. Up to then, I always considered myself an adolescent.” 
On Hitchcock and their interview book,
“I told myself that if he accepted – for the first time – to answer systemically my questions on his art and his productions, that this book could produce a positive change in how American intellectuals see him… His oeuvre is both commercial and experimental. It’s as universal as Wyler’s Ben Hur and as confidential as Anger’s Fireworks. A film like Psycho, which was incredibly popular, is just as free and savage as certain youthful avant-garde films made on 16mm. The scale of North by Northwest, the tricks of The Bird have the poetic qualities of an experimental cinema as practiced by the Czech Jiří Trnka with his marionettes. I’m convinced that Hitchcock’s work, even on those that refuse to acknowledge it, influences, for a while now, all of world cinema. This influence, direct or subterranean, stylistic or thematic, well-done or badly assimilated, has been exercised on varied directors.”
The Cinémathèque, also to coincide with the exhibition, organized a series of fascinating conferences and published a new catalogue. Serge Toubiana, the director of Cinémathèque, speaks of his 1980 interview with Truffaut as a redefining experience, for himself and Cahiers, in understanding cinema’s potential to be both personal and industrial. This reconciliation with an important figure of the Cahiers project would become a decisive feature of Toubiana’s Cahiers editorship starting in the Eighties and it would continue onwards through his editorship, eventual side-projects and his responsibilities at the Cinémathèque. Toubiana would also publish a magnificent Cahiers issue on Truffaut after his death (Le Roman de François Truffaut), co-write a biography, and make a documenaty (Portraits volés) on him. In the new Truffaut catalogue (Flammarion) Toubiana also seems to be continuing a youthful Truffaut tradition by going out with an audio-recorder to do interviews with Truffaut’s past collaborators on their experiences and how it affected them.

Also there’s great new dossier on Truffaut on the website Feux Croisés. There Chloé Beaumont, who did a great job writing and putting together these texts, has an interview with Toubiana, and of note is Oriane Sidre’s article Truffaut l'acteur.

Truffaut’s spirit is still with us.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A Must-Read: Marcus Pinn on Blackhat

"This isn’t so much of a review as it is a critique on what I feel some people got wrong about Blackhat."

In Defense of Blackhat... Pinnland Empire

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Éric Rohmer’s Early Cahiers Interviews

Éric Rohmer’s editorship of Cahiers ended in June 1963 after Jacques Rivette, and others, organized his decommission, so that they could better promote an emerging modernist cinema and their Nouvelle Vague peers. In his new biography, Antoine de Baecque and Noël Herpe writes about this episode, “We know that the symptoms of betrayals, denial, agony (also see renaissance) have punctured, since its origins, and all of the way to today, the tumultuous life of the magazine, but it is certain that it sadly inscribed itself, in the summer of 1963, in the spirit of Éric Rohmer.” With this putsch came both good and bad. It created an intense resentment and split the magazine, while it also initiated Rohmer to teach and work in television, which would eventually lead to his filmmaking career.

In this period the magazine was changing. The layout modernized in the November 1964 issue (N.160) and was turning towards a more conscious cinema, and towards a burgeoning structural theory. The magazine, with its new writing team, was becoming again “an instrument of combat.” Rivette was the unofficial chief editor for the first two years and, on the clash Rohmer-Rivette, de Baecque highlights Rivette’s review of Chaplin’s Monsieur Verdoux (August 1963), “The confrontation is brutal, almost savage: It is no longer Goethe that defines beauty, but Barthes who is the one that is structuring the thoughts on modern art.” While in their March 1970 issue (N.218), in an editorial, the redaction explains that Doniol-Valcroze and Truffaut bought the rights of the magazine back from Daniel Filipacchi, so that they could assert their independence, and that moving forward, the three main points of the new Cahiers line are: (1) information and critical reflection, (2) to promote the circulation and distribution of little known films, and (3) conscious of cinema’s ideological intervention, the magazine will find a critical theory necessary to address it, based on the Marxist science of historical materialism.

In their November 1965 issue (N.172) there is one of their more ‘polemical’ round-tables Vingt ans après: Le cinema American et la politique des auteurs by Comolli, Fieschi, Guegan, Mardore, Techine, and Ollier. Even though it reads less violently today, it's a continuation of their changing of lines, a revision of their traditional auteurism, from Hitchcock, Hawks, Renoir, Rossellini to Resnais, Godard, Bunuel and Antonioni. It's a calling into question of the original ideas of the magazine, a revisioning of favored directors, a wider approach to authorism, more towards producers and studios, and a transition towards a semiotic approach to film analysis.

In the wake of this division Rohmer would slowly return to the magazine, though at first there many conflicts, and his first interview would also appear in this issue (N.172). It’s his first at the magazine, and unfortunately, it’s not available in English (it’s a shame that these, or any of his Cahiers interviews, were not included in Eric Rohmer: Interviews). The following are some highlights from L’ancien et le nouveau: entretien avec Eric Rohmer which was put together by Jean-Claudc Biette, Jacques Bontemps et Jeau-Louis Comolli, who, in their introduction, write about Rohmer, that he “has never stoped guiding us,” and that “by leaving the marble of Cahiers, hasn’t he given celluloid his best critiques?”

Some of the highlights of it are:

“I’m in agreement with Pasolini on the fact that the cinematographic language is in fact a style. There isn’t a cinematographic grammar, but more so a rhetoric that, in reality, is extremely poor, and on the other hand, extremely moving.”
“I don’t think that the modern cinema is one that is forced to give the impression that it’s being filmed. There are now a lot of films where we feel the camera, and it has also been like this in the past, but I don’t think that the distinguishing factor between a modern and classic cinema resides in this. Nor do I think that the modern cinema is exclusively poetic, and that the older cinema is one of prose and story. For me, there is a form of modern cinema of prose and of the romanesque, where the poetry is present, but isn’t constitutive: it just emerges, without being directly solicited. I don’t know if I can explain myself on this point, because this would force me to judge the films of my contemporaries, which I refuse to do, but either way, I’m under the impression that at Cahiers there is one side, criticism, where there is too much the tendency to be interested in a cinema where we feel the camera, and the auteur – which isn’t the only auteur cinema – to the detriment of another cinema, the cinema of narrative, which is considered to be emblamic of classicism, which in my opinion isn’t more or less that than the other. Pasolini cites Godard and Antonioni. We could also cite Resnais and Varda. These are filmmakers that are really different, but that, from one perspective, can be put within the same group.”
“The word Modern is, by the way, a little galvanized. One can’t aim to be modern, or is if he merits it. And one can’t be scared, as well, to not try to be modern. It can’t start haunting artists.”
 “But I’ve thought a lot about the cinema, in terms of a medium, and, on this subject, I have a lot of ideas. The Americans were really naïve, by which I mean that they’ve never written on the subject, or seriously thought about the cinema as a medium as an end in itself. If you were to question them, almost all of them (maybe with the exception of Hawks, who has some ideas, even though they are simple) just see it as a matter of ‘technique’ or in terms of the world as an object, that’s all.”
“I don’t agree. You’ll probably say that I’m reactionary, as well as classical: for me, the world doesn’t change, or at least only very little. The world is always the word, not any less confused or clear. What changes is its art, it’s the way people approach it.”
“Thinking about it, I think Bazin offered new ideas, while we brought forward taste. The ideas of Bazin are all great, while his tastes were contestable. The judgements of Bazin were not ratified after the fact, by which I mean he didn’t really impose an important filmmaker. He certainly liked some important filmmakers, but I don’t think what he said about them really imposed them. For us, we never really said anything important about a theory of cinema; on this subject we just further developed Bazin’s ideas. On the other hand, I think that we found good values, and the others that came after us rarified our taste: we imposed filmmakers that have remained important and that, I think, will remain so.”
“A symbolic cinema is what is actually the worst. We see it every now and then, these films whose images want to play the exact role of a word or a phrase. This trend is long over. Let’s not insist on this subject.”
            “Actually, I’m extremely indiferrent to politics – or at least, in its literal sense – but I’ve always felt this way. I don’t know if I’m on the ‘Right’, but that which is certain, anyways, is that I don’t feel like I’m on the left… The ‘Left’ doesn’t have a monopoly on truth and justice. I’m also for those virtues – who isn’t? – and also for peace, liberty, the extinction of poverty, and the respect for minorities.  But I wouldn’t necessarily calls this being a ‘Leftist’.”
“That which makes us change our political position, sometimes, from one extreme to the other, it’s chance, reading, a sentence, a woman, a friend, love for something new or a sense of opportunity.”
This is the start of Rohmer’s relationship with the magazine as a filmmaker. He would be interviewed 18 times in Cahiers from 1965 to 2010. He would have a follow up interview, during this current actively political period, in their April 1970 issue (219), by Pascal Bonitzer, Jean-Louis Comolli, Serge Daney and Jean Narboni. And even though, they describe in its introduction, “All the while, in this interview with Eric Rohmer, we are in opposition towards him,” it offers many important points regarding the magazine in this period, and Rohmer’s metaphysical, political, and cinema view. There’s a clash between Rohmer’s metaphysics against their historical materialism.

Rohmer, who excels in the art of the conversation, and who is generally known for his positive nature, in these interviews, he stands out by his frustration towards his interlocutors and his necessity to take points to their logical conclusions. Some of the addressed points here are: the reception of the film, the representation of the ‘Marxist’ character in Ma nuit chez Maud, and their differences on how to perceive Bazin…
Here are some of its highlights:
            “What you guys are doing, is a critique, and what I’ve found elsewhere (even though it’s really interesting. And I agree in a certain way), regarding everything that has been said about the film, it is perhaps the most insightful. But how would I respond to this? My relation to the film isn’t important here. Without a doubt since, as you know in the past I’ve been a critic, you are trying to get me to do a critique of my own film, which is something that I absolutely refuse to do, and which I would be incapable of.”
“Here, I don’t want to do a commentary on my intentions, and I don’t think that you could get me too, unless by a trick, get me to do a commentary on my intentions. I don’t like this. This doesn’t interest me, and I don’t think that would be even able to say anything interesting on the subject.”
“I don’t think that from ‘historical materialism’ there can be drawn real fundamental truths. For example, for me, I don’t attribute it any worth. Except that of a philosophical system, among others. But it’s not a science.”
“Of course. But it was, in our period, full of studies of signification that abstracted ideas of the direct in relation to Bazin: the cinema like an instrument of discovery. For example, our production of critiques in the Fifties had a profound relationship with Nature, to discover natural object whose beauty was revealed through cinema. This point, I see that you don’t share it…”
“You talk about the events of May 1968. But my ‘Contes Moraux’ don’t seek its inspiration from these ‘events’, nor am I pretending that others can’t find inspiration from them, nor am I even saying that one day I won’t be inspired by them. The role of a filmmaker can be political. For example: Cousteau is taking up a fight against the polluting of oceans. The problem of pollution is, and will be, the major problem of our remaining century. This is a political problem since its resolution is a governmental problem, or, if you would prefer, a collective decision by the human society.”
On the subject of Rohmer, it’s worth mentioning that Antoine de Baecque and Noël Herpe’s new biography Éric Rohmer (Éditions Stock) won the literary prize from the Syndicat Francaise de la Critique de Cinema for the Meilleur livre français sur le cinéma. A must-read for anyone passionate about the director.